August 28, 2009

My Sixth Toe

So imagine this. You're lying on a mat, and your instructor is standing over you.

"Deep breath, breathe out, and move only your sixth toe," she says.

You breathe out and try to move your sixth toe.

"No," she says patiently, for the dozenth time. "That is your fifth toe. Move your sixth toe. Now deep breath."

You like your instructor, and you're paying lots of money, so obediently you try to move your sixth toe. You don't have much luck. Problem is, you can't actually feel your sixth toe. In fact, you're pretty sure you don't have a sixth toe. Still, your trainer is insistent. Apparently you do have a sixth toe, you've just never used it before, and she'll work with you for as long as it takes.

Welcome to Pilates.

Okay, you're not really asked to move your sixth toe. But it's almost as tough. 

Before Pilates, I thought I had one set of stomach muscles, and I did sit-ups to make them strong. I was proud to demonstrate my muscles to the instructor. I was sure she'd say I'd be a brilliant student. 

I was wrong.

You see, apparently I have a few different stomach muscles, and the ones I've been using aren't the ones I should be using. The ones I should be using are hidden under the ones I shouldn't be using. Problem is, they all feel the same to me.

"Breathe out, and draw in," the instructor says. She is lovely and serene and has her fingers wedged near my hipbone.

I draw in.

"No, see," she says as she presses down on my pelvis, "feel the tension here? You're using the wrong muscles. Let's try again."

I feel the tension all right, but it's not in my stomach. It is like being asked to bend spoons with your mind.

"Breathe out," she repeats ever so calmly. "Concentrate on the corset of muscles in your centre."

"But HOW?" I wail. I feel petulant. I can't feel the corset, I'm not sure I believe in the existence of the corset. How can I draw something in when I don't even know if it's there?

"It takes practice," the instructor says soothingly. "In the meantime, just keep sending it signals. Eventually it will catch on."

So I send signals, corsetry signals, out towards my mid-region. I concentrate fiercely. So determined am I that I nearly chip a tooth.

"No," she says gently, and I want to weep. "Let's try again."

So on we go, the instructor and me, on our search for my elusive corset. It may take a while, and I'd better be careful. Wouldn't want to stub my sixth toe.


  1. See, Pilates is one of those fads I've been toying with trying. A bit like macrobiotic. Now you've just turned me right off. My sixth toe??!! What if she asks me to move my seventh chin, when we all know I only have six! No, better just to stay away I think and admire those who do.

  2. I would have thrown a tantrum by now, sworn and either gone to the pub or gotten on my treadmill!

  3. Ha ha, you'll love it, you will. Of course I only do it at home with my 'instructional dvd', so I'm probably using all the wrong muscles, but hey, if the teacher tries to give me any attitude, at least I can just turn her off.

  4. This is the exact reason I've been to scared to give pilates a go, even though I know my own elusive "corset" is in dire need of work! Good luck!

  5. Ha! That sounds like physio for me. Which includes ... pilates! It does get easier, especially if you've got a good instructor, which it sounds like you do.

  6. Hang in there. It'll come. I've been doing pilates now for 4 years and I love it. My instructor's a former ballerina and they all do it for core strength and lengthening muscles etc etc etc...

    It's great once you get the hang of it.

    Persevere, it will pay off.


  7. I feel like that about pelvic floor muscles. I think it's possible they are a made-up thing too but people pretend they can feel them work.

    Of course, it could be just me and I've outed myself as having floppy flapsterspo. Nobody will ever let me jump on their trampoline again.

  8. Um, I meants to say 'floppy flaps', not 'flapsterpo', and actually I sort of regret saying it and now have drawn more attention to them.

    and christ, to a Person Critic too.

  9. Mama Mogantosh - I think that is the funniest comment I have ever had on my blog. "Floppy Flapsterspo" will now go down as my favourite new phrase. Thank you for contributing to my lexicon.

  10. Kerri, no need to keep in shape, for me. I love you just as you are......:-P

  11. why is it that i love pilates while i'm doing it but the next day my back feels like i have done it all wrong. I'm still trying to decide if i should keep trying or give it up. Is it ever going to feel better or should i stick to yoga where i actually know what i'm doing? problem is, yoga is never going to get rid of my muffin top. By the way.....when did you start pilates?

  12. I went to a Pilates class where there were hundreds of scary torture beds and MIRRORS ON THE CEILING!!

    After confirming that I had not got lost and ventured into some S&M Den I buckled my legs into the belts and tried not to think that I was at the gynae.

    I looked up at the ceiling and the rest of the class I spent trying not to vomit from the extreme motion sickness I was feeling from looking at myself jerk in pain upside down.

    I never went back

  13. I laughed at that last comment - it does look a bit S&M!
    Persevere - it is so worth it - I was almost incontinent after three enormous babies - it has taken ten years but I have also reshaped my body and have no back pain (which I have lived with most of my life)
    Pilates rules! But make sure you have a good teacher - there are some dodgy ones out there. The Pilates Association is a good first point of call.

  14. See, Pilates is one of those fads I've been toying with trying. A bit like macrobiotic. Now you've just turned me right off. My sixth toe??!! What if she asks me to move my seventh chin, when we all know I only have six! No, better just to stay away I think and admire those who do.


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